How Your Breath Moves Your Body

MRI of Breathing
Martin Uecker/BiomedNMR

Watch in the gif to the left how the rib cage expands and rises with each in-breath as the organs below the diaphragm* are pushed down to make room for air to fill the lungs. The diaphragm, the primary breathing muscle, is a mushroom-shaped structure. It lies under your ribs and above the liver, stomach, spleen, intestines and other organs. The diaphragm works like a bellows. When it contracts and moves down, more space is made available in the chest for the air to rush into the lungs. And below the diaphragm, your belly expands, the digestive organs and pelvic floor move downward – functionally making room in the body to receive life-giving oxygen in the lungs.

As the air in your body is exhaled, the diaphragm moves up to push the air out. It is restored to its resting position and so are the other organs. Your ribs and belly relax.

As you look at this gif, try to feel your body moving as you breathe. Feel the rise and fall of the breath as you inhale and exhale: in your chest, the belly, sides and backs of your ribs and spine. Can you feel these areas of your body move with your breath?

Most of us inhibit breathing as we negotiate our daily stresses. We habitually hold tension throughout our bodies. However, we can learn to disinhibit, or relax, our breath and our bodies, and when we do, we will feel the benefits: decreased tension, enhanced energy and more.

This is where integrative and holistic practices like Yoga Physical Therapy come in. Learning to feel the breath in the body is a subtle, yet powerful, yoga and mindfulness tool to restore health and integrate mind and body. It’s a way to investigate and gain understanding within your own experience of how your mind and body work together. It’s key in working with pain. Mindfulness practices bring awareness and acceptance – sometimes even surprising and powerful realizations – to aid in your recovery from acute or chronic pain, especially neck and back pain.

Sharon Gary of Yoga Physical Therapy, one of the best integrative and holistic physical therapy practices in NYC, integrates healing exercises and activities with mindfulness breathing to open, relax and work deeply in healing your pain.


*In this gif, the diaphragm shows as black space because the settings of the MRI were set to visualize other structures.